IT salaries are growing at the same slow rate as the rest of Australia despite the coronavirus pandemic driving a greater reliance on digital technologies.

Figures from the Australian Information Industry Association’s (AIIA) latest Remuneration Report found wages in the IT sector increased by just 1.7 per cent in the past 12 months – the lowest growth rate for five years.

AIIA CEO, Ron Gauci, remained optimistic by the figures, however, saying the small increase “shows how resilient and important the tech sector is for future growth”.

“We are living in a COVID world and with that comes many challenges,” he said.

“However this report shows just how important the tech sector is in getting Australia back on track, reflective of base salary increases.”

But that 1.7 per cent wage growth is not unique to IT.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the wage price index across the Australian private sector also grew by just 1.7 per cent in the last financial year. Public sector wages grew by 2.1 per cent.

Those figures are the lowest on record.

Despite COVID-19 forcing much of the country into extended – and digitally enabled – work-from-home arrangements, and a nationwide push for improved cybersecurity, the growing reliance on IT has lamentably not seen an equal wage boost for the workers helping keep the economy ticking over.

And after global share markets took a dive in March, it was tech stocks in Australia and overseas that were leading the charge until a sudden sell-off late last week.

Meanwhile, the likes of NAB have sacked IT staff as part of a pandemic-led restructure, and other businesses put a pause on pay rises thanks to the economic squeeze.

Of the organisations surveyed for the AIIA who have not already conducted pay reviews this year, more than 60 per cent said they would cancel, postpone, or were undecided about having their annual salary reviews.

The good news is that the vast majority of surveyed organisations (85 per cent) said they did not sack any employees due to COVID-19.

And 45 per cent of respondents said they increased employee benefits to assist with working from home and mental health.

Where is the next generation?

The report surveyed over 550 organisations representing 99,000 employees in Australia’s tech sector. Less than one per cent of those employees were graduates.

Gauci said this small number needed to change in order to drive the next generation of Australian tech workers.

“Long-term success in developing the required skills begins in the primary and secondary education systems,” he said.

“We need Australian school leavers to be more interested in STEM, in particular computer science and technology.”

Young people have already signaled that they aren’t keen on jumping into IT. A survey of young Australians last year found those living in or around capital cities were still far more interested in non-tech specific white-collar careers like law, advertising and media, and business.

This foreshadows the existing problem of tech talent shortages which the government regularly tries to overcome through immigration schemes.

Business and industry have called for more support of alternative training pathways for IT specialists like an apprenticeship scheme.